Realizing 'Just Transitions': The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1990 ... February 3, 2020

Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa

Sam Gindin

On November 26, 2018, General Motors announced a number of plant closures in North America, the largest of which is in Oshawa, Ontario. The Oshawa facility, once the largest auto complex on the continent, was to end all its assembly operations by the end of 2019.

The response of the federal government, which had used the preservation of jobs to justify giving GM billions in public funds during the financial crisis, was a tepid ‘disappointment’. The provincial government, which had been plastering the province with the slogan ‘Ontario is open for business’ was left red-faced when, as its billboards were going up, GM announced the closing of one of the largest workplaces in the province. Both levels of government essentially closed their eyes and wished the issue away.

Nor did the autoworkers’ union, Unifor, escape its own share of discomfort. Less than two years earlier, its leadership had negotiated lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers... in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them. This betrayal of union solidarity was sold to the members as a victory because of its promised retention of jobs. When the closure exposed the job ‘guarantees’ as a sham, the national president reacted with predictable bluster and launched a public relations campaign to shame the corporation into reversing its decision.

In the end, the union did solicit another job promise from the corporation but this time it was for only 300 hundred jobs and they would only come at the end of 2020. Earlier, when the head of GM had announced the closure, she had pointedly emphasized that even with only 3000 GM workers left, the plant’s heavy ‘underutilization’ was a factor in it being shuttered. What then to make of the sustainability of the 300 prospective jobs that would leave 95 per cent of the facility underutilized?

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